Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Slice of Heaven, Slice Into the Woods 12/12/2014

(Sung to the tune of Prince’s “Take Me With You”)

I can’t disguise my groovin’ on these books
They read so strong
Come feast your eyes, what can I say?
It’s goin’ on

Listen close, I’ll tell ya, bro
You know just what to do
Listen close, perhaps maybe
They’ll thrill you some, too

Sex Criminals? Bitch Planet? Please
They’re changing up the game
Rachel Rising and Afterlife
Greatness calling you by name

Listen close, I’ll tell ya, bro
You know just what to do
Listen close, perhaps maybe
They’ll thrill you some, too

Hello there, and welcome back to Donist World. I’m joined as ever by CFO Obie (my friends’ Boston terrier) and by marketing director / administrative assistant / party planner / rainmaker Tulip (my dog, Obie’s sister) and we have weathered the storm…at least thus far. Late last night, my executive team and I rushed to the Donist World corporate offices (my mom’s basement) to be sure no rain had leaked in to damage our finalized five-year plan, or the roadmap to maintaining our status as a Fortune 320,000 company…Tulip also wanted to be sure her bag of salmon kibble was safe from any water damage. Everything was fine, it was mostly a night of psychotic winds, but the three of us decided to enact an impromptu team building exercise by spending the night at the office in the dark, drinking coffee, chatting, and eating snacks. Obie went so far as to tell some scary stories, perhaps you’ve heard of a couple of them: The CFO Who Never Received an Adequate Bonus, or that timeless classic How Donist Failed His Business 101 Savings Throw, and Learned to Love Relinquishing Control to Obie. Needless to say, I’m questioning the validity of team building, at least in this team’s case. Anyhow, the sun has emerged momentarily, so we are outtie 5000 to get some tacos. In the meantime, pick up the hit ebook Kibbles ’N’ Bots, and then have a look at this week’s…

Friday Slice of Heaven

***Possible Spoilers Below***

Sex Criminals #9
Sex Criminals #9 - Written by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Chip Zdarsky, edited by Thomas K, production by Drew Gill, published by Image Comics.
Sex Criminals is finally back in our grubby little mitts, and boy howdy is it as strong as ever. I know it, the dog knows it, I have a suspicion my grammie knows it, and the fellow brimpers know it. “What, pray tell is a ‘brimper’ you ask?” (Donist hangs his head low, but offers a sympathetic smile. There is yet hope.) To understand the “brimper” reference, you must be mature enough to have read the first issue of Sex Criminals, you should really be an adult, you need to have an open mind, you need to be sex positive, you should be receptive to laughing, you should have an appreciation for a beautifully written and illustrated comic. Oh yeah, did I mention you should be an adult, or mature enough to deal with the subject matter of this Donist World darling of a comic? Yeah? Well, alrighty then.

We begin with Ana. You’ve known of her since the very beginning of the story, but the truth: no one really knows Ana, but Ana. The world at large mostly knew of her as someone else; this includes Jon and Suze. But after Jon’s infiltration of the Sex Police leader’s home, they now know that Ana is much more than the former-porn-star of Jon’s dreams. In fact, she might just be key to keeping the Sex Police from interfering in everyone’s lives.

Yeah, there was a bit of a delay between issues, but you know what, denizens? I don’t care, and you shouldn’t either. Heck, the creators even apologize for the slight delay and promise to keep things on schedule for the third chapter. Whether a couple weeks or a month, it doesn’t matter to me as long as the Sex Crims keeps on a comin’.

What grabbed me with the first issue is exactly what grabs me with each and every issue of this series: the brutally honest look at life, relationships, adolescence, work, depression, and what have you. Jon and Suze resonated with me immediately, and because of that I have been cheering for them, not just for their plans, but for their relationship. Things have been a little rocky between the two leads, but isn’t that the case for all relationships at various points and times? With this issue, we finally see Jon and Suze communicating, and it doesn’t go well at first. They scream. They blame. They get mean. But they talk, and that is where the creators’ magic comes in. Every moment of the interaction between Jon and Suze felt so true that I could not, would not, tear myself away from what I was reading. Fraction’s dialogue and captions combined with Zdarsky’ storytelling and character acting capture the incredibly personal interaction of these two characters so thoroughly, so perfectly, that I could not help but breathe a sigh of relief that these two are back on track and working together. It’s almost like seeing two close friends who were experiencing some problems finally work things out.

The above is just half of the issue. The moments with Ana, a character I was in no way expecting to become part of the cast, provided a fascinating look into how certain chains of events and certain immutable situations can lead a person down certain roads. Experiencing Ana’s life, and the all-too-understandable choices she makes is heartbreaking whether it is her unfortunate accident, her unhappy home life, working for an inadequate minimum wage, or falling into substance abuse. I became whole-heartedly invested in this new character by page two, and seeing her finally overcome the odds that were so thoroughly stacked against her, I was touched; I can’t wait to see how she, Jon, and Suze continue from the last page. I also have to call out the awesome addition of The Wicked and the Divine, as well as its creators (ha!) to Ana’s story as well…I ain’t spoilin’ the context, but I promise you’ll crack up once you read it.

You know I love this dang comic. I have the individual issues, I will buy the trades, and I will buy the super-duper hardcover thingy whenever it happens. Sex Criminals is such a smart, affecting read, but it is also one that will have you laughing as you hope for the best for your friends Jon and Suze. If you are not reading this fantastic comic, you can catch up with the $9.99 first trade collecting the first five issues, and see what all the fuss is about. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Bitch Planet #1
Bitch Planet #1 - Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro, colored by Cris Peter, lettered by Clayton Cowles, designed by Rian Hughes, backmatter by Laurenn McCubbin, edited by Lauren Sankovitch, published by Image Comics. Fine. Fine. Image, I tell you…my pull list scales have greatly tilted towards this dang fine publisher, and with the release of Bitch Planet, that side of the dang scale is dang near touching the gosh dang ground. Dang. Okay, this is another “mature readers” book, so no kiddies on this one on account of subject matter, language, and nudity. Now, I can only half say the nudity part, because of all the comics I have read through the many, many years, I have never seen more accurate portrayals of the female form. That said, the violence and messed up situations in this amazing new comic definitely make the book for adults only, and I will gladly say that this here adult thoroughly loved it.

“Be a good girl. Get them silly notions out of your head. Aim to please.” Most of all “We get by when you comply.” One thing women in this futuristic world do not want to do is get marked as “NC,” or non-compliant, lest they get sentenced to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost (ACO), or Bitch Planet, as the less eloquent refer to the off-Earth, all-women detention facility. Women of all sorts who have committed all manner of violations inhabit this planet, and this just in…the future will be televised.

Holy cow, denizens. I don’t know what is going on in the DeConnick / Fraction household, but the two are delivering some phenomenal comics of late. Bitch Planet is an extreme look at a world where women not stepping into line with the whims of the patriarchy end up being shipped off planet. Even more severe is that the happenings at the ACO look to be televised for the amusement of the Earthlings — not to mention a perpetual warning against women speaking up — as an extreme, reality show version of Orange Is the New Black.

DeConnick instantly solidifies character voice to some of the key players, while organically world building without resorting to any sort of exposition. As I read through each panel, I could not help but think about the messed up premise of this comic book, but then it occurred to me: there are plenty of psychos out there who would love to see this world come about. Just read some of the terrifyingly real comments from some of the weaker-minded politicians out there, you know, those in charge. But let’s not go down that road here. DeConnick has the characters and the world down, but just when you think you know where things are going in the story, she knocks the reader completely off balance — twice no less — and leaves them reeling on a particularly nasty cliffhanger.

The story and writing are enthralling enough on their own, but with De Landro’s gorgeous art, the book only gets better. This world is not one of superheroes where every woman is a hypersexualized fanboy’s dream. No. De Landro’s character designs offer glimpses of reality as there is no single cookie cutter mold for the women in this book. You have Penny Rolle, then Kamau Kogo (who might just be my new hero), then Marian Collins, and so on with no one looking the same, even to the degree that each of the characters has their own body language. It’s honestly kind of insane. The only characters that are similar are either the faceless male guards, or the instructional hologram “women” who are hypersexualized reminders of how the prisoners should look and act.

Adding to De Landro’s linework are Peter’s amazing colors. He utilizes a predominantly flat coloring scheme for the actual characters, while the backgrounds get halftone dot gradients that enhance the cult vibe of this comic. His knockouts on the hologram women make them leap from the page and the additional use of the halftone dots makes them even more otherworldly.

All of this said, I want the dang double-page spread title page as a poster.

I was kind of blown away by this book, denizens. If I have to point out any shortcomings, it’s that it is only 24 pages, and not the 100 pages I would have gladly read in one sitting. If you are a “mature audience” and can handle a callback to the cult / exploitation films of the ’70s, and you love beautifully written and illustrated sci-fi comics that leave you desperate to see what happens next, then this is book for you. On a completely different note, I would love to see this comic reprinted on the old non-glossy, lower-quality paper used back when I was a kid to really bring home the culty vibe…just a thought. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Afterlife With Archie #7
Afterlife With Archie #7 - Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, lettered by Jack Morelli, published by Archie Comics, Inc. Archie and his surviving friends have left Riverdale after the zombie apocalypse had taken over. Unfortunately, the undead, as led by a zombified Jughead, are not content to stay put and have given chase as Archie and his pals run for their lives to get to the nearest CDC. During moments of rest, Betty (re)journals her youth, the gang holds a makeshift funeral, and someone has decided that enough is enough.

Okay, now that was a long wait for this issue. But as with all issues of Afterlife With Archie, the moment you start to read, to become immersed in this twisted take on the familiar Archie-verse, any delays are soon forgiven. Although Jughead and his zombie minions only show up briefly, this issue is all about the retooling and modernizing the past as seen with the flashbacks to Betty’s childhood and life with her older, troubled sister, Polly.

As I’ve mentioned before, Archie comic books were always around me at an early age, but I (erroneously) avoided them in favor of the superhero books. It wasn’t until my 30s that I finally decided to give the books a try and I was floored by the beauty and perseverance of this wonderful publisher. I breezed through the Best of Archie Comics and then read the phenomenal Archie: The Married Life and felt my heartstrings pulled taut (I really need to catch up on this series). I mention this, because Betty’s sister, Polly, is new to me, so I’m uncertain what their relationship has historically been like. With this issue, however, it looks like Polly has been nowhere near Riverdale and is poised to make a return in the near future, which will be interesting to see how things work out between the sisters in this new, messed-up world.

On the subject of Polly as told through Betty’s journal entries — expertly written by Aguirre-Sacasa — Francavilla employs a more stripped-down, cartoonish style that when combined with his beautiful coloring schemes sets the mood perfectly with the primarily blue and complementary yellow colors. The regular story is as stunning as ever with its fiery-hued dramatic sequences adding to Francavilla’s storytelling skills.

Then there’s the small matter of the last page. I’m not going to spoil what goes down in a “Blaze” of startling glory, denizens, just know that a character does something that would likely give Archie fans of the ’60s a coronary. Biting my tongue…biting my tongue…but I will say that the creators will give you a serious case of the willies with yet another flashback that both the unsettling dialogue and twisted visuals are sure to elicit. Ack…it’s givin’ me the chills, by golly.

Alright. So maybe you are like the Donist of old, the one who foolishly wrote off Archie Comics for decades without truly understanding the fun, artistry, and brilliance of this vital comic book universe. But surely you have a basic understanding of some of the characters, enough to know that they have all been historically goody-goody (NOT a bad thing, btw), and that should be enough to lead you into the wonderfully spine-tingling Afterlife With Archie, which you can and should do immediately with the first trade. Afterlife With Archie is a delightful-yet-creepy twist on the characters we grew up with, and is something everyone should be reading. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Rachel Rising #30
Rachel Rising #30 - Everythinged by Terry Moore, published by Abstract Studio. Rachel is on a vision quest of sorts, and not the type that involves Matthew Modine. Zoe discovers the inert Rachel, but Rachel is onto something as she gains a clue toward finding her killer. But where Rachel cannot wake up, someone else is not afflicted the same problem, as this awoken person will soon prove to Zoe that good help is so very hard to find.

I am still in love with this long-burn horror story. Moore continues to show the diversity of genres for which he is able to create compelling stories. Of course he is most famous for his wonderful real(ish) world depiction of relationships (Strangers In Paradise), but he also covered sci-fi (Echo), and he has worked in the superhero realm with Marvel on many occasions. Now with Rachel Rising, he brilliantly covers the Twin Peaks-style mystery / horror genre with a host of characters you will take to heart, and a story that leaves you desperate to know what happens next.

Moore is a fantastic writer, one of the best, but when you see his art, that is when you go “oh…wow.” Moore is a master of character design, character acting, and visual storytelling to such a degree that even without his witty and compelling dialogue, you can follow his story with little trouble. In this issue, one of the most stunning pages is a silent one that depicts a man in a parked car, outside of a hotel, staring at his wedding ring, a gun in hand. This is a new, minor / major character (you have to read the comic to understand what I mean), but in all of two panels, we know this guy, we feel his pain. The hopelessness, the defeat, it all comes across without a word — none are needed. The final panel of the page shows the man out of the car, a grey sky above, and you have an entire story about this guy as told silently, over five panels on a single page. THAT is what you get when you read a work by this writer-artist.

I mostly detailed one page out of this comic, but much of it is actually spent silently watching the wicked goings-on in the gorgeously-rendered forest as a character makes his return (it involves a bear, btw…yeah, just read it!) before kicking into the final revelation by the lead character. Rachel Rising is my favorite horror comic, and it is one that Amy (my wife) adores reading in trade format…we double dip to support this amazing creator. If you are looking for a beautiful, chilling, occasionally humorous horror title, then Rachel Rising is a book you simply must read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Slice Into the Woods

More Missed Dang Comics?!?! - Grrrrrrr! Okay, now I’m missing a bunch of books that have been “delayed in transit”:

  • Lazarus
  • Swamp Thing
  • Southern Bastards
  • East of West

It’s a revoltin’ development, denizens, but at least I know I’ll get them…some day.

Speaking of Shipments - You have got to be kidding me! Check out these images, and then read the following “Packaging Feedback” I left for
Smells Like Teen Spirit, or
actually wet cardboard
Sure you care, buckaroos,
sure you do
This is most likely USPS's fault, but I received my package in a clear trash bag on a Sunday afternoon. The box itself looked as if it had been dropped in a swimming pool, and stank of old wet cardboard. The tape had actually come undone and one of the box flaps had completely ripped open.
The Blu-ray was fine, and I don't care about the dog bags, but the collectible hardcover book, although shrink wrapped, had let some water (I hope it was water) in and added minor warping of the actual pages. 
The Post Office had tossed a "Sorry, chump" note in the trash bag, that basically said, "@#$% happens, bro. Sucks to be you."

I have never seen a package delivered in such a condition, and I have worked in shipping/receiving before. This would be comical if it wasn't my order.

I think I’m going to try to request a replacement for the Saga HC, yes damage is minimal(ish), but the thing is a dang collectors item, and I expect it to be in tip-top shape. No respect, I tell ya.


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